As much of an honor as it is for an artist to win a Grammy, how those awards are handled still doesn’t make a lot of sense to people.
Despite her perhaps abrasive delivery, Nicki Minaj was correct when she complained that the Grammys’ nominating rap committee made a senseless decision to classify her hit single “Super Freaky Girl” as pop. I wish her comments hadn’t sparked a beef with Latto, who I adore, but hopefully peace will reach those two at a later date. (In the meanwhile, please don’t send death threats, Barbs. I am a Nicki fan, but I’m also a “scratch off,” too.)
Since then, Grammy voters have told Variety Nicki will be nominated in the rap categories, only not for the song she wants, which does nothing to settle her underlying criticism. Nicki’s complaints recall those made by Drake back in 2017, when he took issue with how “Hotline Bling” was categorized by the Grammys. Likewise, Justin Bieber expressed discomfort with his album Changes being snubbed in the R&B categories for the 2021 Grammys.
Of course, no one feels the slight the way Black artists do—particularly in the major categories. Prior to Jon Batiste winning this year for his album, We Are, the last Black artist to take Album of the Year was Herbie Hancock in 2008—for a tribute to Joni Mitchell. The last Black female winner was Lauryn Hill in 1999. Beyoncé has lost twice for Album of the Year to Beck and Adele, as the latter loss sparked protests from even Adele herself.
And when there aren’t shocking losses, artists like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean had been passed over altogether in major categories.
More often than not, only acts like Batiste, a jazz artist, tend to escape the perils posed by the Grammy voting body, largely because the music genre appeals to the older white demographic that makes up a sizable bloc. The same could be said for Silk Sonic, the duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, who announced last week that they will not submit their album An Evening With Silk Sonic for Grammy consideration.
When the Grammys voting bloc seems made up mostly out-of-touch older white people that are too sexist, racist, classist, and elitist to embrace the best contemporary music artists have to offer, they turn to what sounds familiar to them.
“We truly put our all on this record, but Silk Sonic would like to gracefully, humbly and most importantly, sexually, bow out of submitting our album this year,” Bruno Mars explained to Rolling Stone. “We hope we can celebrate with everyone on a great year of music and partake in the party. Thank you for letting Silk Sonic thrive.”
That album, released last November, was anticipated to be a top contender for Album of the Year at the 2023 Grammys. Last year, the album's lead single “Leave the Door Open” won every category for which it was nominated back in April, including Song and Record of the Year.
“Andy and I, and everyone that worked on this project, won the moment the world responded to ‘Leave The Door Open.’ Everything else was just icing on the cake,” Bruno added. “We thank the Grammys for allowing us to perform on their platform—not once but twice—and awarding us at last year’s ceremony. We’d be crazy to ask for anything more.”
Something tells me Bruno Mars understands the position he’s in with Grammy voters and the likelihood of him winning whatever category he submits for. After all, when the bloc seems made up mostly out-of-touch older white people that are too sexist, racist, classist, and elitist to embrace the best contemporary music artists have to offer, they turn to what sounds familiar to them. They love when younger artists play what they consider to be more substantive music.
That’s not to discount Bruno Mars, to whom I endearingly refer as “Puerto Rican Frankie Lymon.” He is an incredibly talented songwriter, singer, and performer. He has penned plenty of bops for himself and others. I also have long found claims of him being a “cultural appropriator” to be wrong and misguided.
Still, when it comes to the Grammy voters, yes, he’s got it much easier than most of his contemporaries, especially the Black ones. He benefits from creating music that sounds vintage, and thus immediately perceived as better in certain circles. “Leave The Door Open” was a great single, but the rest of the album doesn't come close to matching that musical high point. If An Evening With Silk Sonic were submitted for Album of the Year, it would’ve been hard to beat based on Bruno’s history with the awards show.
I don’t know if any of this thinking went into his decision to not submit his album with Anderson to the Grammys this year, but I do appreciate the potential impact it could have on other potential nominees like Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Bad Bunny. Of course voters could still simply coalesce around Adele, but if the Grammys ever want to get it right and win over audiences, they need to at least try to meet people under 40 where they are.
If these voters don’t adapt for the times, I hope more artists make like Silk Sonic and stop submitting for reasons raised by The Weeknd last year. In a March 2021 statement to the New York Times, the Weeknd said: “Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.” Separately, he told Billboard earlier that year: “Look, I personally don’t care anymore. I have three Grammys, which mean nothing to me now, obviously. I suck at giving speeches anyways. Forget awards shows.”
I understand why so many artists still submit in spite of the Grammys ongoing problems, but in order for anything to change, perhaps this attitude should spread among other major artists. They’ve snubbed many of us for years; perhaps it’s time the favor be returned in a massive way to finally get them to learn.
If not, don’t expect much change from the Grammys—or for other artists to be as generous as Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak to make up for their ongoing goof ups.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé, I Don't Want To Die Poor, and the forthcoming I Finally Bought Some Jordan's.